Monday, April 30, 2012

Television's South Park and film Moneyball

Last Monday our class saw segments of Moneyball and South Park. I had seen Moneyball a couple of weeks prior so I was therefore familiar with the story. And I had also seen South Park’s film and some television segments. I thought both presentations were illuminating as my classmates incorporated Postmodernism and salient points into the texts. The students made analogies of baseball’s old world order and new world disorder.  Reflecting old world order: Oakland Athletics’s potential  payroll for 2002 was large, as they had a few great players who would be expensive to keep on their roster. They had non-creative scouts, many of them old. Their team relied on homeruns to win games. Some of the new world disorder involved Billy Beane revolutionizing how a general manager of a baseball team operates. While the New York Yankees’ payroll in 2002 was $120 million, the Oakland Athletics’ salary was $38 million. The Athletics’ simply did not have the operating cash to finance keeping expensive players on their roster; therefore, they let talented veterans such as  Giambi, Damon, Isranhouse, and rookie Pena go to other teams who could afford their expensive salaries.
The new world disorder of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics relied on a new idea of computer statistics to help the general manager obtain baseball players that would normally be overlooked. These new players became known as “island of misfit toys.”    In actuality, the new assistant general manager was Lew Podesta (he would not allow the movie makers use his namesake), a young man straight out of Harvard  whose computer research was known as “sabermetrics.” He looked for categories such as on base percentage, slugging percentage, pitching statistics hitherto not used by other teams,  players who were either overlooked or undervalued by their present team, and who could be obtained on the cheap by the Athletics. By using these unconventional methods, the Athletics had a great season, even though they came short of the championship. They actually set a record for most consecutive wins: 21 victories in a row.
  Some of the students in the project compared the slave/master relationship to that of the players and Billy Beane. Also, they compared Billy Beane as the slave versus the owner of the Athletics as the master. This reflects Hegel’s philosophy and Modernism’s capitalistic hierarchy. Actually, during the early 1970s, an African American baseball player, Curt Flood, challenged the monopolistic major league baseball’s ownership in fighting for “free agency” which means that a player can negotiate with other teams on their own thus creating more salary and less dependency on their current team. Prior to that, the baseball player had virtually no rights.  The case was eventually settled in the Supreme Court with the plaintiff, Curt Flood, winning. This changed the landscape of athletes’ rights, not just in major league baseball, but in all professional sports. Unfortunatly, Curt Flood never played again—he was blackballed from baseball.
The group also underscored  the 1950s and 1960s as a  fecund period in America for civil rights and feminine rights. Thus Jackie Robinson became the first African America baseball player to be accepted into the major leagues in the early 1950s. The Negro Leagues, however, had perhaps the greatest pitcher to play the game—Satchel Page—who was not accepted into the majors until he was about 50 years old. In addition, the Negro Leagues had a homerun hitter, Josh Gibson, a catcher, who never made the majors, was at least an equal to Babe Ruth. Gibson was known to hit 500 feet homeruns and actually hit over 800 home runs, surpassing Babe Ruth,  known as “The Sultan of Swat.”
It is quite true that profitability and large capital is skewed in favor of large city teams such as New York, Boston, and Los Angeles;  however, Major league baseball has had in place for several years what is known as “revenue sharing,” whereby the more profitable teams share their wealth with the small market teams. This is perhaps fair and more of a Marxist economic procedure. However, a perennial complaint of the teams that share their wealth is the fact that small market teams simply pocket the extra shared revenue instead of using it to obtain more expensive players, which is the rationale behind revenue sharing. It should be noted that the Brooklyn Dodgers were the first baseball team to bring in an African American, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were the first team to hire a female assistant general manager, albeit, she left the team a couple years ago to work in the front office of major league baseball’s headquarters.
The second class project was on South Park, a satirical cartoon serial TV show on Comedy Central cable television station running for 15 seasons. Actually, I had never seen South Park until the last few weeks. Ironically, I had mistakenly had an image of the television show as having gratuitous obscenity and reflecting prejudice. However, after watching a few of their television shows and their movie, in addition to listening to our classmates’ project, my opinion has greatly changed. I feel the show has intelligent commentary on current sociological and political issues, often satirizing both sides of the issues. The show is not biased.  The Postmodern philosophy of Jean Baudrillard  is reflected in South Park. He maintains “the postmodern world of communication saturation represents an over-intense advance of the world consciousness” (Barker 208).
The project’s members stated that the cartoons undermine the stereotypes to make us laugh at them with a lot of satire. The four boy cartoon characters are Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny. This last weekend I watched the film South Park, and although I laughed hysterically at times, I appreciated the intelligence of their messages. For instance, there was a segment whereby the Japanese were ridiculed by American activists for killing whales and dolphins. The irony was injected by alluding to Americans as “normal” for killing chickens and cows. The question it posits: Why is killing whales and dolphins worse that killing chickens and cows?
The group categorized Modern and Post Modern characteristics of South Park. Modern:
·        Prioritizes words over images
·        Promulgates rationalist view of world and discusses two sides of an issue.
·        Explores the meaning of Cultural Texts.
·        Distances the spectator from cultural objects.
Post Modern:
·        Draws from everyday life.
·        Contests rationalists view of culture.
·        Puts stress on visual.
·        Immerses the spectator in his/her desire for cultural object.
The topics that South Park encompasses: Race, Immigration, Capitalism, Media, and Religion.
            Germaine to our discussion on immigration, Dr. Wexler posited that western countries relaxed immigration policies to bring in cheap labor to “discipline” labor unions. Chapter 10 (Barker) deals with television techniques in juxtaposing the protagonist versus antagonist, and the hero versus villain characters, using script and camera shots as a means to an end. Fiske gives a very detailed account on the nuances involved. Also, the chapter stresses that TV shows, including news, have a cultural, political, and economic agenda influencing the audience. Louis Althusser’s philosophy of hegemony exemplify popular culture and television.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cultural Space & Youth

Cultural Space, Postmodernism, Youth, and Resistance were covered, discussed, and reflected in segments of two films we saw last week: Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray, and Rebel Without a Cause, staring James Dean. Lost in Translation is a more recent film depicting aspects of postmodernism: hegemony that influences in both directions, effects of globalization, and transnational corporations. The setting is an over-the-hill, famous American actor making a Japanese commercial in Tokyo. His displacement there takes on the aire of the Absurd. The urbanization of Tokyo reflects disposition of people in the margins of life, fragmentation, with skyscrapers hovering down upon the city. Murray’s character is well known in Tokyo and he is treated deferentially. Murray’s character, in trying to sell a Japanese liquor brand, reflects Hollywood’s hegemony.
            The director of the commercial barks his instructions in Japanese for several minutes like an angry WW II  Japanese general, whereupon a benign Japanese female interpreter then breaks-down the translations in one simple sentence, giving the scenes nonsensical, humorous, and surrealistic postmodern bents. Surrounding the hotel where Murray’s character and other characters are staying, skyscrapers reflect signs of transnational companies, thus making the world closer in globalization space. Other scenes between Murray’s character and a ostensible Japanese hooker reflects modernism’s absurdity, and scenes of a young American couple manifest the disconnect and fragmentation of the modern/postmodern era. To encapsulate the essence of the film, bricolage is a term that comes most to my mind, or the rearrangement and juxtaposition of previously unconnected elements producing new meaning in fresh contexts, or at least trying to do so.
The first film that we had seen first, Rebel Without a Cause, takes place in the USA during the 1950s. It reflects many of the themes we read about in Chris Barker’s chapter #13: “Youth, Style and Resistance. Parsons points out that “youth or adolescence is a social category which emerged with the changing family roles generated by the development of capitalism” (407). Since post WWII, this youth culture has more time designated to their growth and for the first time has become a separate group onto themselves. Parsons goes on to write “the transition from childhood dependence to adult autonomy normally involves a rebellious phase” (408). This is manifest in the film as the teenagers have a lot of time on their hands just to cause horrific mischief that includes unnecessary death.  If we segue and jump to the future, their knives have been replaces with guns, and their rebelling at nothing in particular has been replaced with crime from drug trafficking and battles over turf.  
This teenage subgroup in this film seems distinctly American, though, now, technology, and cyberspace have influenced hegemony going both ways , giving youth groups in all countries parts of  each other, lessening their distinctness. Barker posits “Youth cultures are not pure, authentic and locally bounded; rather, they are syncretic and hybridized products of interactions across space” (424). A major theme in this story--alienation with parents (as reflected with the characters of James Dean, Natalie Woods, and Sal Mineo) are prevalent in every generation. If not the parents specifically than the government, corporation, music, or clothing, which serve as the  parental surrogate being resisted. However, as Sarah Thornton points out (in more modern times);     
·        Youth cultures are not unified but marked by internal difference.
·        Youth cultures are increasingly fragmented.
·        The idea of grass roots, media-free authentic subculture cannot be sustained. (Barker 426)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Annie Hall: Postmodern and Radical Romance Comedy

The film, Annie Hall, released in 1977, written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, and directed by Woody Allen, was reflective of the radical romantic comedy of the postmodern era, and a break from the past. The movie took Academy Awards prizes for Best Picture and Best Actress—Diane Keaton. The comedy is a departure from the traditional romantic comedy in a lot of ways. Allen innovates new methods or devices to American filmmaking with this comedy, innovations which he borrows in large part from European filmmakers, a postmodern process known as pastiche. These devices included Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, facing the camera and talking to the movie audience, giving it a surrealistic element, putting a caricature of himself and a lover in a cartoon for humorous hyperbole, splitting the screen and showing the two main characters, Alvy Singer and Annie Hall, having simultaneous psychotherapy session (with Allen’s session getting more prominent coverage with 2/3 of the screen), subtitles during a flirting scene between Alvy and Annie, cutting through the ostensible polite conversation by revealing their most intimate thoughts. 
In addition to those innovative devices, Allen incorporates some magic realism when he meets Annie’s Midwestern gentile family and is having dinner with them.  Alvy, who is Jewish, perceives them as anti-Semitic and as the stern appearing grandmother looks at him unsmilingly, Alvy turns into an Orthodox bearded Jew with a large hat on the screen. It’s quite humorous. This is consistent with Alvy’s self-deprecating nature as reflected earlier when he says “Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.”
Tamar Jeffers McDonald, author of Romantic Comedy, explains that the “film taps into the zeitgeist [the spirit of the times] through its insistence on the pitfalls of romantic love, sexual attraction and marriage” (74). He is referring to Alvy’s two failed marriages, one of Alvy’s ex-wife, Allison , craving for sex with a turned-off Alvy,  Annie needing to smoke marijuana to relax and becoming turned-off to having sex with Alvy, and most importantly, the sober ending of Alvy not being able to get Annie interested in him romantically anymore; hence: their final (?) split. McDonald further illustrates “within the film’s three fold exploration of self-reflexivity, this ending is as resolutely appropriate to the realistic portrayal of modern love, and to the film’s acknowledgement of itself as a film text within certain traditions, as it is in conscious opposition to the usual generic ending” (74). Yes their relationship ends unresolved; however, the film audience can envision better times for the forlorn Alvy Singer, perhaps with other romantic relationships, and who knows, maybe he and Annie may wind up with each other again.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Barker's "Enter Postmodernism" Chapter and Upcoming Texts

This week I read Chapter 6: “Enter Postmodernism” in Chris Barker’s Cultural Studies. There seems to be a lot of overlapping of Modernism and Postmodernism, and  different theorists’ view appear to both concur and differ. The chapter is both dense and relatively lengthy—a attentive read took me about three hours; therefore, for my own edification, I would like review the chapter to reinforce what I learned and be able to embed the salient parts in my mind. In addition, I see on our syllabus that we will possibly be watching Woody Allen’s film Manhattan and and discuss it in terms of Postmodernity.  One of our recommended texts, Romantic Comedy, by Tamar Jeffers McDonald discusses this particular movie and length, so I plan to revisit that particular chapter also. Actually, when I learned we would be watching Manhattan, I purchased the DVD a few weeks ago. Although I had seen it forty some odd years ago, I thought it was time to see it again. I’ll defer further comments until we watch the academy award winning film as a class and have an informative discussion how it related to Postmodernism and radical romantic comedy.
According to Barker, Modernism is engendered by enlightenment philosophers such of Rousseau and Bacon, economic theorists such as  Marx, Weber, and Habermas, and novelists such as Joyce, Kafka, and Brecht; whereas, postmodernism films include Blue Velvet, Blade Runner, novelists such as E.L. Doctorow and Salman Rushdie, and philosophical thinkers as diverse as Lyotard, Buadrillard, Foucault, Rorty, and Bauman.  According to Giddens, modernity started after the Middle Ages with the advent of industrialism, surveillance, capitalism, and military power achieved through industrialization. He points out that the nation-states are a relatively recent modern contrivance wherein the inhabitants identify with their respective state machinery. Technology’s benefits and dangers are embedded in both modernism and postmodernism. Self-identity is modernistic peroson’s “reflexive  Project.”  Faust is one of the emblematic modern figures. (Barker 182).  This is all very interesting to me because this information contrasts with what I have perceived in my English literature classes. Barker  refers to Baudelaire’s flaneur as a crucial figure of modernism (Barker 183).
Some of the optimistic self-image of modernism conflicts with the darker sides as Barker points out on pages 183 & 184.  He maintains that “modernism rejects the idea that it is possible to represent the ‘real’ in any straight manner” (185). He goes on to discuss problems pf realism (185-188).  I believe Barker says that the enlightenment belief that reason can add to progress can help demystify and illuminate intrinsically  leads to modernism; however, the nuclear era has probably contributed to the postmodern era. A critique enlightenment by Horkheimer contends that while its ”logic leads not only to industrialization but also to concentration camps of Auschwitz and Belsen” ( 191).
Barker maintains that Foucault’s work has been very influential within cultural studies and expounds on it (192-193). Barker Illustrates how Foucault breaks with thepremises of classical enlightenment on pages 194-195.   Foucault feels truth is complicated and elusive and differs with the interpretation of progress. Postmodernism questions the value of epistemology (196). Rorty’s, Gergen’s and Bauman’s thinking are articulated on pages 196-197 and thereafter. Bauman offers if the promise of postmodernism is modernity as an unfinished project (197 on).  Habermas gives a sobering view of the public sphere and the deleterious effects of advertising, public relations industries, and the state as taking over our lives economically and in education (199). 
Barker posits that the “emancipatory project of modernity is best served by a commitment to ‘postmodern’ public spheres based on difference, diversity and solidarity” (200). A discussion on “the reflexive postmodern” on page 201 underscores that the postmodern culture invites the ‘other’ of modernity and seeks out its voices in terms of feminism, ethnic diasporas, ecologists, ravers and travelers (201).  On page 202 the modernist ‘regime of signification’ is contrasted with the postmodern  “figural’ (202). Historical blurring of post modern culture in which the past and present are displayed together is given the name “bricolage” (202-203). Intertextuality is very relevant in film and literature of the postmodern era.  Further markers of postmodern are bulleted on page 204, and film and television programs are illustrated as reflections of postmodern era. South Park (205) is case in point, and I see that South Park is one of the last texts we will be analyzing in our Popular Culture class.
             Culture jamming (205-206) or “subverting mass media messages, especially advertising, through artistic satire is discussed.  It seeks to resist consumerism by refiguring logos, fashion statements and product images in order to raise concerns about consumption, environmental damage and inequitable social practices” 206). Barker goes on to give some humorous examples of this with Barbie Liberation Organization and G.I. Joe dolls.  Baudrillard on page 207 is discussed in terms of simulations, hyperreality, and the “schizophrenic” effect of saturation of world of communication. (208). Jameson discusses late capitalism, simulacrum, (209), and “transgressive postmodernism is broached at the chapter’s ending on page 210, finally ending with Chambers posits on late capitalism. The chapter entails blurring, overlapping, agreements, disagreements, and contradictions almost; it is a lot to cover and I realize this is an unusual reflection. However, I written it to help me for a future review and class discussion to ensue.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Blake Edward's "10" As a Radical Romantic Comedy

Actually, since watching 10 in Dr. Wexler’s class last Monday, I have seen two other very good films in the romance comedy genre, both written and directed by Woody Allen: Manhattan, and Midnight in Paris. While enjoying all three films, my reflection will concentrate mainly on Blake Edward’s 10.  Tamar Jeffers McDonald, the author of Romantic Comedy, Boy Meets girl Meets Genre, states that the “evolution of the romantic comedy was influenced by its social context…the particular climate of American society in the late 1960’s and early 1970s affecting the way in which romantic comedy of this period developed” (McDonald 59). Hence, 10 reflects the sexual revolution of the 1960’s perpetuated mainly by the use of the birth control pill. So we can have a plot whereby the protagonist, George Webber, gives up his very pretty, sophisticated, and sexy girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, for a quest fantasy for a younger, prettier, and perhaps sexier woman physically in Jenny Hanley. The scenario of this film is boy has girl, boy leaves girl, boy get another girl, and finally, boy goes back to original girl. 
Although it ends like a traditional romantic comedy of an earlier decade, it is what happens in between that differentiates it from the traditional to the radical romantic comedy. The near ending of this film throws out the window what McDonald refers to the former girl object as “saying no to the wrong kind of sex” as Jenny, the younger 10 female, exemplifies the “changing societal attitudes to sex” when she willingly accepts George as a sex partner even though she is on her honeymoon with another man (60) (Although this is within realty it is still far-fetched). This film thereby satisfies the “thematic concerns of the radical romantic comedy [that] all derive from issues of self-reflexivity, a heightened consciousness of self which these films exhibit across three main areas:
·        “Self-reflexivity about the romantic relationship and the importance of sex to both genders
·        Self-reflexivity as a film text in the tradition of other films
·        Self-reflexivity as a modern and more realistic form of romantic comedy to earlier texts” (67).
Surely, sex is important to all three characters, including the women. Samantha remains an unsatisfied mate to George while George is pining for his fantasy girl Jenny. This follows previous movie texts; however, the genders are inverted. Usually it was two men vying for one woman with the “better” protagonist winning. A more realistic aspect of women are reflected here: with both Samantha and Jenny wanting and enjoying sex; however, Samantha typifies the more traditional and wholesome need—which is monogamous sex with the man she loves, in this case George, whereas Jenny typifies the complete opposite, a woman who loves sex just for the joy of it without needing the prerequisite emotional attachment.
            Ultimately, George is more like the traditional Samantha, because the prospects of free and unemotional sex with Jenny prove empty to him, so he gladly goes back to Samantha whom he really loves. In addition, this radical romantic comedy incorporates standard loves songs which George sings to Samantha in the last scene, sealing the deal and winning her back. The film broaches on a homosexual relations between George’s songwriting partner and his much younger lover, which is also a departure from traditional romantic comedies of the 1950s and 1960s, however—and typically—“the romantic longings of this gay couple end with a downbeat finale which appears to suggest that a homosexual love affair is doomed to fail”( 80). Thus Blake Edward’s 10 includes three modes of self-reflexivity of the radical romantic comedy.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Closure to Casino Royale and Romantic Radical & Sex Comedies

Since last Monday’s (3/5/12) presentation of Casino Royale I have finished reading the 1953 novel and have finished watching the 2006 Albert R. Broccoli’s movie production, starring Daniel Craig as James Bond and Eva Green as Vesper. I found the group’s presentation and Dr. Wexler’s monitoring and interjecting extremely informative. They started the discussion regarding the technology aspects and positing that technology is not created to necessarily serve mankind, but rather being served for profit, and that weapons of technology are never the cause and answer to the problem.
Dennis started the presentation suggesting that Ian Fleming was quite misogynistic, exemplified for example when the novelist portrays Vesper’s dress pulled over her head exposing her nakedness from the hips down in the simulated kidnapping. The time lapse between the novel and the movie is twenty-five years and a positive twist of having M—Bond’s boss—as a woman indicates improved perceptions and reflections of females. Indeed, Judy Drench plays a formidable task master in the movie, possessing both harsh disciplinary leadership in supervising Bond and empathy and compassion for him when Vesper drowns herself. I thought the novel was superb; however, the film was perhaps the best action/spy thriller that I have ever seen. 
The presenters did an excellent job of correlating and defining structuralism, post-structuralism, and post-modernism with the novel and film(s), and Dr. Wexler did an excellent interjecting some salient points. Basically, from what I got out of the presentation is that in the beginning of the novel, Bond is quite the structuralist: he knows he is the good guy, the hero, while Monsieur Le Chiffre and his henchman are the bad guys/villains, not to mention SMERSH and their Soviet Block’s assassins. Part of the structuralism theory that meaning of something is defined by what is not—its opposite. And Bond knows his place in the world rock-solidly. However, his dogmatism shifts and weakens after his torture, particularly at the nursing home convalescence in his conversation with Mathis. Philosophical ambivalence and uncertainty have crept in. This correlates with part of Derrida’s post–structuralism: there is never a moment of presence; meaning is always changing and deferred.  The following conversation between Bond and Mathis in Fleming’s novel exemplifies this:
            ‘Now,’ he looked up again at Mathis, ‘that’s all very fine. The hero kills two
villains, but when the hero Le Chiffre starts to kill the villain Bond and the villain Bond knows he isn’t a villain at all, you see the other side of the medal. The villains and heroes get a mixed up.
            `Of course,’ he added, as Mathis started to expostulate, ‘patriotism comes along and makes it seem fairly all right, but this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date. Today we are fighting Communism. Okay. If I’d been alive fifty years ago, the brand of Conservatism we have today would have been damned near called Communism and we should have been told to go and fight that. History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts. (Fleming p 135)
Bond then seems to recover his unequivocal identity standing on firmer ground and, hence, structuralist mode later in the conversation:
‘So,’ continued Bond, warming to his argument, ‘Le Chiffre was serving a wonderful purpose, a really vital purpose, perhaps the best and highest purpose of all. By his evil existence, which foolishly I have helped to destroy, he was creating a norm of badness by which, and by which alone, an opposite norm and goodness could exist. We were privileged, in our short knowledge of him, to see and estimate his wickedness and we emerge from the acquaintanceship better and more virtuous men.’ (Fleming 137)
            The presenting group also exemplified what the post-modernist, Jean Baudrillard, would consider “Simulacra” in both showing black exploitation movies of the 1970s and also the movie Shaft (which I actually saw when it came out and loved the black hero character), which was subsequently incorporated into other movies, including James Bond’s movies. In the novel, the torture of Bond is a metaphor for the emasculation of the British Empire. The 2006 film still has Vesper as a double agent and still committing suicide; however, in the novel, when Bond says to M “the bitch is dead now,”  he does it with more finality (182). The film reflects a more human Bond who is crushed by Vesper’s love, duplicity, and suicide, and his “the bitch is dead now” to M is not said with visceral anger but with painful rationalization.
             The film modified the “Others” characters,  portraying the opening villain as black, and also the hotel assassins as black, and the motive to not only get La Chiffre neutralized and talking, but to keep the gambling money out of the hands of terrorists. Also, the card game in the casino became easier to follow in the film as they changed it from the complicated banco to the better known game of poker. Also, the near ending scene with Bond trying to get the money back with a shootout and Vesper killing herself was tremendously dramatic and exciting. The novel’s account of Vesper’s suicide is more sentimental and thus painful for the reader.        
            The second part of my reflection deals with our reading for the week of  Mcdonald’s Chapter 3-“The Sex Comedy and Chapter 4 “The Radical Romantic Comedy.”  In “The Radical Romantic Comedy” McDonald refers to Annie Hall, (1970s) Harold and Maude (1971), and The Graduate (1967) as a departure from the Romantic Comedies of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the reason being women were now using birth control pills and the sexual mores of the USA had opened up.  Actually, the Kinsey report on Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female in 1953 made the USA look at female sexuality quite differently, laying the groundwork for  “the development of the sex comedy” (McDonald 40). Most of the Sex comedies and Romantic Comedies and Radical Romantic Comedies that McDonald mentions I saw growing up. I vaguely recall either reading a book on the Kinsey Report or seeing a movie on, and for me it was of prurient interest. And of course during the early fifties Playboy began to be publishes (1953) which was also a radical departure from magazines in highlighting nude pictures of women and articles pertaining to “indoor activities of which sex was only one” (41), Amazingly, it was not until 1953 that the word “virgin” first appeared in movies as a legitimate word.
A characteristic has remained inherent in sex comedies as “the thrust of the narrative is about sex and the idiots it makes of otherwise rational people” 45). Most people, including myself, can relate to that. Up into recently, the main motivation in the movies for men was to have sex before marriage, whereas the women wanted to wait until they were married. However, with the rise of birth control pills and the feminist movement, that is not a relevant issue anymore, and in fact, the recent trend over the last twenty years is to apply the sex comedy to younger people—teenagers, as exemplified in such movies as American Pie. During the 1950’s and early 1960s the “good women” were the ones that held out for sex and opposed to the more eager women. McDonald mentions, and I saw it in 1963, Frank Sinatra’s character (in Come Blow Your Horn) juggling around sexually with three beautiful women. I remember seeing it as a fifteen year old, but quite frankly I don’t remember my exact reaction. I vaguely remember thinking Sinatra was complicating his life unnecessarily and hence making things difficult for himself. (Except for inconsistent intervals in my life, I’ve always felt more comfortable being monogamous with one woman).
  In the typical movie during this time, the abstaining, and, hence, “good” woman would invariably wind up with the man. In retrospect, these movies were hypocritical and misogynistic, creating an uneven sexual playing field for females in favor of men. Now of course with HIV AIDS pervasive it changes the whole complexion of sex comedies, giving casual sex and especially promiscuity an unreal apprehensive tone. In fact when I see a drama or comedy portraying unbridles sex I feel it lacks the verisimilitude of the times.
However, McDonald posits that “the particular context in which the mid-century sex comedy flourished ended when the contraceptive pill became an accepted fact within the media” (55) and the “sex being talked about, plotted and lied for, but never actually enacted, lost its impetus” (55). Some filmmakers during the latter sixties “touted ‘free love’ and sexual libertarianism. Both chapters delve into the importance of Annie Hall as the most influential film of the radical romantic comedy genre as a “work most conscious iconoclasm, it breaks with many generic conventions, most notably the happy ending”( 59)  Again, ninety percent of the films the author illustrates in his book I had seen growing up and experienced the changing nuances and transitions.
Since Dr. Wexler’s class will probably see parts of Annie Hall tomorrow and it is a discussion topic, I will buy the movie online momentarily. The story line of The Graduate and The Heartbreak Kid were movies that would be too radical for the fifty’s conservatism. That is why they are referred to as radical romantic comedies. In the first, Dustin Hoffman’s character has an affair with the girl’s that he falls in love with mother. And in the latter, the protagonist dumps his newlywed Jewish wife for a Gentile Goddess on their honeymoon. That was the first time I had seen Cybil Sheppard, who plays the Gentile Goddess, and she was very sexy. Finally, the author mentions that there has not been a true conventional movie about gay and lesbian comedies, only movies that touch on the subject and skirt the actual realistic plots.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fleming's Casino Royale and World Politicis

Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming, was the first book of his spy thrillers, which was published in 1953. It reflects the tension of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers, which included England and the USA among their key countries. Fleming is glorifying England’s spy agents, reflected by the courage, cunning, intelligence, masochism, and sexuality of his fictional hero, James Bond.  In the early film adaptations during the 1960s Sean Connery portrayed the spy agent. I was a teenager during those years and can attest that James Bond and Sean Connery were tremendously popular and iconic symbols for the heroic Western agent of the Cold War. As the years progressed and world politics changed with it, the spy thrillers adapted accordingly. For instance, the original novel of Casino Royale portrayed Le Chiffre, a Soviet Block agent, as Bond’s antagonist. Decades later, when the move adaptation was created and the Cold War had ended years prior, the antagonist Chiffre was portrayed as representing terrorism, which reflected the contemporary world political map. However, much of the Bond mystique including his patriarchal and superior macho personality stayed unchanged.
For instance, in the original novel, Fleming has Bond portray his female partner in espionage, the beautiful and sexy Vesper, in unflattering, chauvinistic terms:
This was just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men. And now for this to happen to him, just when the job has come off so beautifully. For Vesper to fall for an old trick like that and get herself snatched and probably held to ransom like some bloody heroine in a strip cartoon. The silly bitch. (Fleming 099)
Prior to this mishap Bond was planning on seducing and making love to her, something that he had put on hold until the mission was accomplished. Thus the Fleming depiction of the lead female spy fits Simone de Beauvoir’s “Other.”
            Jerry Black, in his Politics of James Bond: from Flemings Novels to the Big Screen, correlates the Fleming’s novel’s film adaptation to appropriately relate with the contemporary world situations, He states that “Bond is a figure to resist the threat of empire…can be seen, at least initially, as a central figure in the paranoid culture of the Cold War.” He makes a further distinction regarding the novel, Casino Royale, not reflecting the spy tension and clashes between England and the USA: “This is not, however, the issue in Casino Royale. The harmonious relationship of Bond and Leiter [who is an American agent in the novel] concealed a more troublesome realty,” namely defections of American spies to England. In the novel Casino Royale SMERSH is introduced as an agency trained by the Soviets to kill English and American spies; however, in the subsequent film this is not prevalent as it would make the agency anachronistic.
            In the Bond novels and films cutting edge technology has a major influence, generally as an enticement of curiosity and excitement for the reader or viewer. However, Steven L. Goldman, in his article “Images of Technology in Popular Films: Discussion and Filmography,” illustrates that the film industry is ambivalent as far as technology, and has been reflected by their negative bents in such films as Iceman, Splash, Baby, The Manhattan Project, Clockwork Orange, China Syndrome, Silkwood, Aliens, Robocop, Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. However, as Bond fans realize, advanced technological gadgets and weapons have often been his ace in the hole in getting out seemingly impossible jams.